By: Murray Hunter

One of the key sectors in government to face budget cuts last October was higher education. Hidden under the populist measures of the BR1M people’s aid scheme, higher pensions and a widening of zero-rated items under the goods and services tax introduced last year, education cuts are just starting to be felt.

The education institutions’ budgets were slashed by RM2.4 billion (US$1 billion at current exchange rates) from RM15.78 billion in 2015 to RM13.37 billion for the year 2016.  

The cuts have not been uniform, ranging from a high at Universiti Malaya of 27.30 percent down to Universiti Malaysia Sarawak at 1.05 percent. Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia actually got a budget increase of 5.05 percent.

University Spending Cuts %
Universiti Malaya 27.3
Universiti Malaya Terengganu 23.76
Universiti Teknologi Mara 23.72
Universiti Pendidican Sultan Idris 20.78
Universiti Utara Malaysia 19.31
Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia 17.14
Universiti Teknologi Malaysia 16.53
Universiti Pertahanan Nasional 16.29
Universiti Sultan Zainal Abidin 13.42
Universiti Malaysia Pahang 11.18
Universiti Putra Malaysia 11.41
Universiti Teknikal Malaysia Melaka 10.78
Universiti Islam Antarabangsa Malaysia 8.11
Universiti Malaysia Perlis 3.64
Universiti Tun Hussein Onn 3.71
Universiti Malaysia Sarawak 1.05

Source: Malaysia budget

One of the immediate problems with these budget cuts is the degree of them over such a short time. This gives universities very little time and latitude to adjust their spending patterns.

This could lead to crises in some areas like teaching hospitals. The renowned University Malaysia Medical Centre (UMMC) which has been providing medical treatment to people who can’t afford private insurance, will according to Universiti Malaysa’s Dean of Medicine Professor Adeeba Kamarulzaman, be forced to cut back on both medical services and teaching.

The present crop of vice-chancellors are used to managing their respective universities from guaranteed budget allocations, where it hasn’t been necessary to be too prudent with spending. They also have little experience in attracting other sources of revenue.

However the Ministry of Education is slowly retiring the “old breed” of vice chancellors like Professor Kamarudin Hussin of Universiti Malaysia Perlis, who was exposed by Asia Sentinel last month for corruption and mismanagement at the university. Kamarudin attempted to hang to his post by using alumni to make an appeal to the Higher Education Minister Idris Jusoh. On the minister’s insistence that take up a face-saving position as a special ministerial advisor, Kamarudin made a grand exit from the University last week, as evidenced by the pictures.  This departure came as besieged Prime Minister Najib Razak called on all government departments and institutions to spend less on events and protocols.

Since his departure, there has been considerable talk in the corridors about corruption. The incoming Perlis vice chancellor, who hasn’t been selected yet, will be faced with having to eradicate excessive waste and corruption, allegedly by past and current staff. It is worth noting that a letter of appreciation for his 14 years of service was unusually not signed by the minister, but rather by the director General of the Ministry, Professor Asma Ismail.